Sunday, December 13, 2015

Judge nations by per capital carbon emissions

Americans continue to generate carbon dioxide at unfair levels

Since Nationalist Public Radio (NPR) constantly says that China is the world's largest carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas producer, and they pass for liberal in these United States, I assume most Americans have a distorted view of how our nation fits into the problem of global warming.

If all people are created equal, we should set an average target allowance that is safe. Then everyone should work to push down the carbon emissions of those who are, in effect, cheating the rest of humanity (and all living creatures) by consuming more than their fare share.

So let's look at a few national averages, remembering that within each nation there are also high consumption carbon emitting individuals, and below average individuals. The following table is a sample. You can find fuller tables at Wikipedia List of Countries by carbon dioxide emissions.

Nation kilotons CO2 emitted tons per person
United States of America
European Union
Of the nations with large populations the U.S.A. clearly consumes far more than its share of carbon per person. The global average is 5.0 tons per day, so we are at over 3 times that.

There are a few nations with per person carbon emission higher than the U.S.: Australia at 17.3, a coal producing nation; and Saudi Arabia at 16.8 are notable. But the E. U., with a standard of living similar to the U.S., is under half.

China is, on a per person basis, is at 46% of the U.S. Its total emissions are higher than the U.S. because of its much larger population (1.38 billion vs. 322 million).

When you throw in history, the unfairness of the situation is heightened. The industrial revolution started in Great Britain in the late 1700s, in Europe in the early 1800s, and in the U.S. around the mid 1800s. So we have had very long periods of carbon emissions compared to the rest of the world.

In the aftermath of World War II pretty much every factory in the world had been damaged. Except the factories of the U.S. With our vast petroleum fields and array of factories, we dominated the world economy and dwarfed the emissions of other nations. Other nations' factories came on line gradually. By the 1970s Americans had to compete again, and had grown soft, and so began losing the economic competition to other nations. We were just so wealthy by then that it took a while for the truth to sink in.

China made stabs at industrializing going all the way back to the 1800s, but did not really start to grow production faster than America, Europe, Japan and Russia until the 1980s.

The competitive advantages to nations that continue to burn fossil fuels are enormous. Clearly, if it were about fairness, the U.S.A., which has done the most historic damage, should do the most to cut its per capita fossil fuel consumption. Instead gasoline and natural gas are cheap right now, so consumption is increasing rather than decreasing.

Fairness is all fine in a game of tennis or baseball, but in the real world people who are unfairly privileged typically don't want to play fair. I've talked to people across the spectrum of American wealth and poverty, and the response is almost uniform. People want scientists to fix the problem without any substantial personal impositions on themselves.

Scientists can't change the laws of thermodynamics. That is why they are called laws. It takes energy to keep buildings warm in winter and cool in summer. It takes energy to move cars and planes around. It takes energy to fertilize farms, plant and harvest food, and get it to markets. It even takes energy to separate silicon from silicon dioxide to make solar panels, or to extract and transport fossil fuels.

It is clear that their are too many people in the world and that their standard of living is too high. In the United States we should probably do our share by immediately limiting families to one child, turning off all air conditioning systems (except, perhaps, hospitals), and adding a punitive tax to sales of fossil fuels, something like $3 per gallon of gasoline. Also all flying of any kind should be prohibited.

But we won't. The rich will buy Teslas and pretend they have done their part. They will meet with politicians in exotic locations and pat themselves on the back for closing the occasional coal-fired generating plant and putting in a few solar panel. The middle class will continue to aspire to the luxuries of the rich, and the working class will aspire to middle-class luxuries.

The coral will die, and the plankton will die, and sooner or later crops will wilt. Nature will will unleash plague and famine, and balance will be restored. Hopefully when humans die off, it won't be entirely random. Hopefully the humans that survive will give birth to an improved species.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at

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